The Delta Statement

Daisies

A young girl realizes that a family member is back in town, which leads to painful realizations.

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Daisies

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Melberta lifted her head as she pushed open the door to her favorite burger place. Mrs. Geraldine always took care of her, and a good cheeseburger always made everything better. She was careful not to let the door slam as she closed it, gripping the knob tightly with one hand while resting her other hand on the glass as if she were caressing a lover. She then stepped up to the counter, watching the floor as she walked to avoid stepping on any cracks.

One step, two steps …. Her right boot had come untied again. She stopped to tie it, fumbling a bit with her chartreuse laces as she did so.

Butterfingers, she thought. Butterfingers Birdy.

Standing again, she brushed her dirty blonde hair out of her eyes and continued to the counter. Watching the floor gave the impression that she was insecure, but following superstitions that she didn’t actually believe in had become a game to her. Why, she didn’t know, but it was somehow calming.

She sat at her favorite table in the back, watching other customers as they went in and out. They were mostly regulars—a good sign. Maybe she had just been imagining things.

Then, as she went up for a refill on her tea, she noticed the daisy on the counter.

“That sure is a pretty flower, Mrs. Geraldine.”

“Ain’t it, baby? A gentleman came in today gave it t’ me. Can’t say I recognized him, but y’know, he looked kinda familiar. Said ‘e was an old friend and missed the food here—don’t know why he ain’t been in here before!”

* * *

Melberta stared at the plants in front of the trailer. Cautiously, she opened her car door and stepped out. She was careful to make as little sound as possible as she closed the door and crossed the yard to examine them.

Two beautiful African daisy plants were on either side of the steps. One stem had been cut fairly recently.

Looking at them, Melberta remembered the flowers that used to grow in their place: begonias, pink hyacinths, yellow acacias, daffodils. The year Memphis had lived here, the yard had been covered in color. Flowers had been his pride and joy.

Memphis was the older brother of one of Melberta’s namesakes, her mom’s best friend Alberta. He and his infant daughter had moved in with Alberta after a house fire had taken away his wife and everything he owned. They had lived there for just over a year when Memphis left without warning, leaving behind his two-year-old daughter and his flower garden to his barren, widowed sister.

Melberta had been twelve when he left. She could still remember helping him in the garden as a young girl.

“I’m going to teach you everything I know. One day, I’ll bet you’ll have a better garden than me!”

She highly doubted that. As a child, she had tried to grow her own flowers from seed—cornflowers. It seemed, however, that all she had ever been able to grow was grass.

But a few months after Memphis had abandoned his sister and daughter, even the grass had stopped growing.

The appearance of the daisies could only mean that he was back. She had hoped that it wasn’t true; her trip to Rick’s had been a way to stall, to give herself time to convince herself that she had imagined the whole thing.

She hadn’t.

Trying desperately to swallow the lump in her throat, she climbed the concrete steps and opened the screen door.

“Birdy, honey, is that you?”

She swallowed again, focusing her gaze on the chipping linoleum. “Yes, Aunt Alberta.”

“Can you come in here a second?”

Careful as always not to let the door slam, Melberta closed it before walking into the kitchen. At the table sat Alberta, Memphis’s daughter Petunia, and the man who had abandoned them.

“Birdy, this is—“

“I recognize him.” She nodded in greeting. “Uncle Memphis.”

“Wow, Birdy! Is that really you? You’ve gotten so big!” His shirt was untucked, his face was unshaven, and his hands were still caked with dirt from planting the flowers outside. Vertical streaks ran through the filth on his face. He reached to hug her.

“A lot can happen in seven years.” She stepped back.

His arms dropped to his sides, and he laughed awkwardly. “I s’pose it can. Actually, I was jest talkin’ with year aunt and Petunia here about it. Can’t believe she’s already nine years old!”

“That tends to happen. It’s been seven years; she was two when you left. That’s basic math.”

“Melberta, don’t be rude. He’s your uncle.”

“Sorry.” The apology was more for the uncomfortable look in Petunia’s face than for what she said. “I’ve got homework to do; I’m going to my room.”

“Melberta—“

“No, let her go, Albie. ‘S’alright.”

She went quickly to the room she shared with her cousin. She had barely pulled out her laptop when his heavy footsteps came and stopped in the doorway.

“Knock knock.”

“No one’s home.”

“Aw, c’mon, Birdy. I know I hurt y’all by runnin’ off like that, but I’m back now. Fur good. Can’t we jest let bygones be bygones? C’mon. I’ve got some more flowers I was wantin’ to plant. Why don’tche come help me in the garden like ya used to?”

She didn’t look up. “I’d rather not.”

“Aw, c’mon! You used to love it!”

You mean you used to love making me do it. “A lot can change in seven years.”

“I have more daisies. They used to be year favorite!”

“I hate daisies.”

“Melberta, don’t be like that! Me and you had so much fun when you was a kid!”

Now she looked at him; she met his bright blue mischievous eyes with a look of hatred.

“I’m not a child anymore.”

There was a moment of hesitation.

“Alright … lemme know if you change yer mind.”

“I won’t.”

He turned and walked away. She watched him as he turned down the hall before looking away. As she did so, she noticed something: a brand new doll sat in the middle of her little cousin’s bed. It was plastic, with blue eyes and blonde hair, just like Petunia’s. It wore a dainty blue dress, with a white fabric rosebud sewn onto the front. It wore a matching flower crown. Melberta didn’t have to ask where it came from.

She picked it up, and as she did so, she heard giggling outside. Walking to the window, she saw Memphis outside in his old garden plot. A pot of daisy plants sat behind him. Beside him was Petunia, too young to understand, happily helping him plant the flowers. Melberta felt sure that he knew she was watching them. If he was going to stick around, she told herself, she’d have to make sure she watched him.

* * *

Dinner that night was tense. Petunia, oblivious, chatted happily between mouthfuls of mashed potatoes about school, about helping her father plant flowers, about the new doll he had bought her. Memphis smiled proudly through it all, but the tension was unmistakable. Melberta chose to look up from her food as little as possible, though she had no appetite. Alberta was growing increasingly annoyed.

“Melberta, I wish you’d stop pickin’ so much at your plate and just eat already.”

“Sorry, Aunt Alberta.” She took a bite of carrots, feeling Memphis’s gaze on her. The conversation had taken on an unnatural tone; her plate seemed to swim as she tried to keep calm. With some work, things would come back into focus.

“Melberta!”

She snapped to attention. “Yes ma’am?”

“If you aren’t gonna eat, go to yourr room. The dinner table’s no place to be nappin’.”

She didn’t even try to argue. Her emotions were getting the better of her, and she was unsure how much control she’d have over herself if she didn’t get some time alone. Maybe a nap would help.

She looked at the pair of scissors in her hand. A few strands of blonde hair were wedged between the blades, along with a small piece of blue fabric. She wasn’t sure what she had done or why she was holding them; the last thing she remembered was getting up from the table.

A glance around the room showed that everything seemed to be in place. Her desk was still the same disorganized mess; her bookshelf didn’t seem to be missing anything; Petunia’s toys still lay somewhat scattered around her half of the room; her doll with the botched haircut lay despondently across her bed; the duct tape still seemed to be holding the crack on the window.

The doll. Melberta looked at it again—it was the doll that Memphis had just given Petunia, except earlier it hadn’t had the bad haircut. She picked it up shakily, hardly believing her eyes.

The beautiful blonde hair had been cut as if done by a three-year-old; the blue dress had been torn to shreds. The flower crown had been cut off so viciously that there were scratches in the doll’s forehead, and the rosebud on its dress was nowhere to be found. Looking at the scissors again, Melberta could see where the blonde hair and green fabric came from, but she could still hardly believe it.

She would have to hide the evidence. There was no way that she would let Petunia know that her gift from her father had been destroyed, much less at the hands of her big-sister-figure. Melberta felt responsible for protecting Petunia—from more than just herself.

* * *

Petunia had cried herself to sleep over the loss of her new doll, and Melberta could tell that neither Memphis or Alberta believed her to be fully innocent. The carnage had been disposed of in a trash can at school, though, so there was no longer any evidence to convict her. Unfortunately, the white rosebud from the doll’s dress was still missing, although Melberta had spent over an hour looking for it. She was getting truly sick of flowers.

She was determined to ignore the daisies as she ascended the steps to the trailer and went inside. She poured herself a glass of sweet tea then took it to her room, not wanting to be in the front part of the trailer whenever Memphis showed up.

As she sat at her desk beside her open window, she realized how odd it was that he wasn’t around. He had no job, no obligations. He hadn’t lived here in seven years, so he had few connections. There was nowhere else for him to be, unless he was out buying more seeds.

She rolled her shoulders, but as she did so, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Tilting her head, she looked at her bed. On her pillow sat a miniature white rosebud, with a tiny piece of blue fabric still attached to its base.

As she examined the flower, her door slammed. She whirled to find Memphis standing there, his eyes sparkling, his dirt-covered face plastered with a malicious grin.

“Got a bit worried last night when you blacked out, Birdy. Last time that happened, you ‘bout ratted me out. Had to leave after that; didn’t know when you’d go openin’ year trap again.”

“Uncle Memphis, I—“

“Shed-up, Birdy. You always was a talker. Always talked too much in the garden, almost talked and got me sent t’ prison. This time, won’t be any worry about that, will there?”

Terrified, Melberta could only shake her head. Her left hand had dropped the rosebud; her right hand, still holding her glass of tea, shook.

He grinned. “Good.”

As he stepped closer, Melberta’s fight-or-flight instinct took over. She hurled her glass at him. It crashed into the wall behind him, and he glared at it for a few seconds before turning back to her.

She was already out the window.

Alberta’s car was pulling up. Melberta ran to it, hoping desperately that her aunt would believe her.

The car door opened; Alberta was clearly tired and in no mood to put up with people. She closed her door firmly, a tired smile crossing her face as she looked at her brother’s work in the yard. She had almost forgotten what life used to be like before –

“Aunt Alberta!” Melberta nearly fell as she came around the corner of the house, going just a little too fast, with her chartreuse laces flying behind her. “Aunt Alberta!”

“What is it, Birdy?”

“Uncle Memphis, he—“

“Albie!” The front door swung open, crashing against the side of the trailer. “Birdy’s done lost it again. Kid needs hep—don’t listen t’ her. Jest like last time—don’t know why she keeps makin’ this shit up.”

“No, Aunt Alberta, you have to listen to me!”

“Albie—“

“Will both of y’all shut up a second! I jest now pulled up; y’all gotta give me a minute to figure out what’s goin’ on. Now, Melberta, you go first. Tell me the truth; what’s goin’ on here?”

Melberta didn’t answer. She stared at the daisies, suddenly realizing something. Wordlessly, she walked to the steps, ignoring the cracks for once, and fell to her knees.

A smirk crossed Memphis’s face as Alberta grew concerned.

“Birdy, what’s wrong?”

Melberta didn’t say a word. She began furiously digging at the roots of the daisies. The first thing Memphis did when he came back was start gardening again, in the exact same place as before. The man was a lot of things, but Melberta had never known him to do anything without good reason.

“Melberta, what the hell are you doing?”

Memphis jumped off the steps and pushed her out of the way. “Now jest you look here, kid –”

“Memphis!” Alberta strode determinedly toward her brother, determined to give him a piece of her mind. He was on his knees now, desperately trying to replant his beloved daisies. Something shone beneath the dirt, reflecting the afternoon sun.

Creating a trench between her brows, Alberta squatted and lifted the shining thing out with one hand. It was an old, beat-up metal box.

Melberta watched as her aunt opened the box. Alberta’s face turned from confusion to shock, then quickly to disgust. She dug through the box for a moment, her face growing more intense by the moment. Memphis grasped for the box, but it was held out of his reach.

“Get out.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Get out. Now. I want you gone before Petunia gets back, and I don’t ever wanna see year sorry face again. You hear me?”

“But, Albie—”

“Get. Out.”

Melberta could not see her aunt’s face, but saw that she stood in place as Memphis went inside. He came back out with his one suitcase and opened his other arm for a hug. Alberta did not move, and he slowly lowered his arms. He then tried to reach for the metal box. A string of obscenities erupted from Alberta as he did so, and he quickly got into his car and left.

As he drove away, Alberta dropped the box on the ground and approached her niece. She sat beside Melberta and wrapper her arms around her, rocking back and forth.

“Oh, you poor baby … My poor Birdy … I’m so, so sorry.”

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About the Writer
Liz Howell, Copy Editor

Elizabeth (Liz) Howell is an English major at Delta State. Her family originates from Chicago and Denver (her mother and father) and she herself was born...